As we saw in the previous posting on this subject, John Henry Newman based his thought firmly on the idea that the human person is of paramount importance. At the same time, he failed to account for (or possibly only failed to appreciate) the fact that human beings, while remaining individuals, are also social, a possibly unique combination Aristotle called “political.” This may, in part, have caused him to lump all types of liberalism together under the umbrella of what he called “the Anti-dogmatic Principle,” which is to say to someone like Newman, “the Anti-truth Principle.”
|John Henry Newman|
To Newman, “liberalism” meant the rejection of dogma, of absolute truth, “dogma” being, of course, “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” Both European and English liberalism as we have defined them in the postings on this subject, however, take as the only dogma the principle that there are no dogmas — “there are absolutely no absolutes.”
American type liberalism, however, is based firmly on the absolute of human nature. This is in sharp contrast to European and English type liberalism that posits human nature as changeable. To a logical Christian such as Newman — or to a Jew, Muslim, or pagan who accepts the human person as created in the image and likeness of an Absolute Creator — the claim that human nature (and thus the natural law) can change is not merely nonsense, it approaches a type of insanity so divorced from reality as to be incomprehensible.
|Jean-Baptiste Henri Dominique Lacordaire|
Given that Newman defined liberalism as the Anti-dogmatic Principle, then, it is no wonder that he avoided even trying to come to terms with any form of it, even when there appeared to be features of what was called liberalism with which he wholeheartedly agreed. As we have seen, he even went to the length of hinting that, e.g., Lacordaire and Montalembert, whom he greatly admired, were using the term incorrectly! As he said, “If I hesitate to adopt their language about Liberalism, I impute the necessity of such hesitation to some differences between us in the use of words or in the circumstances of country; and thus I reconcile myself to remaining faithful to my own conception of it.”
The fact was that after Newman became Catholic, he commented that as an Anglican he had fought liberalism (of the European-socialist-collectivist type) not realizing he was himself a liberal (of the English-capitalist-elitist type). On becoming a Catholic he opposed what he believed to be all liberalism, not realizing that there existed the American-distributist-personalist type (we use the term “distributist” here in the original sense of a system of widespread capital ownership, not today’s “democratic socialist” version or any of the permutations thereof).
|Alexis de Tocqueville|
Newman thus appeared to be unaware that American type liberalism of the sort Alexis de Tocqueville chronicled in his day was fundamentally different from European and English type liberalism (in our day they have merged into one pretty much amorphous whole). As de Tocqueville said, using terminology that has been increasingly misunderstood as America shifted to the combined form of European and English liberalism known as the Servile State,
In America the principle of the sovereignty of the people is neither barren nor concealed, as it is with some other nations; it is recognized by the customs and proclaimed by the laws, it spreads freely, and arrives without impediment at its most remote consequences. If there is a country in the world where the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people can be fairly appreciated, where it can be studied in its application to the affairs of society, and where its dangers and its advantages may be judged, that country is assuredly America. (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, I.1.iv.)
Consequently, liberalism was simply a bad thing as far as Newman was concerned. Using the term in any sense was unacceptable, even if you understood and acknowledged that others were using it in a different sense than yourself, and you agreed that their sense(s) — although not the term itself — might be correct!
|James II/VII England/Scotland|
Obviously, the situation was and remains complicated due to using the same term in profoundly different ways. The problem was made even worse by the fact that the word “democracy” was used virtually as a synonym for “liberalism,” and the various types of democracy fell into the same broad categories as liberalism, having European, English, and American types.
Unfortunately, this sort of thing has made it possible for people to get away with mixing and matching many incompatible things under the heading of liberalism. This they would not have been able to do had it been recognized from the start that the term can and does have different meanings, some of which can mean the opposite of other meanings, the sort of fallacy of equivocation that (whether or not intentional) causes massive confusion and misunderstandings.
|William and Mary|
It did not help any that the philosophers who had the most influence on American liberalism as manifested in the development of democracy — John Locke, Algernon Sidney — were also those who had set themselves in opposition to everything the prime movers in the Oxford Movement held most dear, and which seemed the bulwarks of Christianity and civilization. What Newman and others, including a preponderance of Americans then and now, failed to realize is that Locke and Sidney based their political philosophy solidly on “Catholic” principles as articulated by Robert Cardinal Bellarmine and in refutation of Bellarmine’s opponent, Sir Robert Filmer.
Just to confuse matters even more, these “Catholic” principles were used to justify the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 that got rid of the Catholic James II/VII of England/Scotland, and brought in the Protestant House of Orange, William and Mary. An interesting paradox that resulted was the position of some “High Church” clergy who while James was on the throne accepted the doctrine that any resistance to the lawful sovereign was contrary to the laws of both God and man, when that same lawful sovereign denied the legitimacy of the church that taught that doctrine. (Owen Chadwick, The Mind of the Oxford Movement. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1961, 25-26.)
|Fr. William Ferree, S.M.|
And if that were not enough confusion, Bellarmine’s theories, as we mentioned before, needed a little correction before they conformed fully to Catholic teachings. That’s because he assumed that there are some rights that are granted to the collective because no individual has the right to exercise them, e.g., the right to tax and the right to declare war.
Now, this conundrum can be resolved from an individual orientation so that the collective doesn’t come into it, i.e., the government provides a service and justice demands that the costs of this service be met by the people served, and everyone has the right of self-defense; war is “merely” self-defense writ large, as it were. The real answer, however, is that there are rights that everybody has by individual nature, but that can only be exercised by individuals as members of an organized group. Pope Pius XI presented this in his social doctrine and then beatified, canonized, and named Bellarmine a “Doctor of the Church.” Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., explained this in his doctoral thesis, The Act of Social Justice (1942).